Hungarian midwife asks for clemency over jail term

Supporters of Hungarian midwife Agnes Gereb say she is being punished for taking on a male-dominated medical establishment

A Hungarian midwife and advocate of women's birthing rights has appealed for a presidential pardon after she was convicted over the deaths of two babies born at home.

Authorities informed 65-year-old Agnes Gereb on Friday that as of March 6 she must begin a two-year prison term that she received last month, according to a statement from a group campaigning for her release.

The statement added that Gereb has requested that the date be postponed until after a decision on her plea to the president and justice minister to have her jail term dropped.

The plea was officially sent on Thursday, a spokesperson for the group told AFP.

The midwife, who is seen as a controversial figure in Hungary, has championed the right for women to choose where and how their babies are born.

The case was one of the longest-running in Hungarian legal history and has triggered strong reactions.

Her supporters say she has pioneered progressive changes in hospitals and is being scapegoated for challenging a male-dominated medical establishment.

Some have even offered to serve some of the jail term on her behalf.

For decades Gereb successfully campaigned for more humane conditions in hospital maternity wards including enabling mothers to choose their own birthing positions and fathers to attend deliveries.

She says she also assisted at some 3,500 home-births, technically illegal until a ban was lifted in 2011.

Arrested in 2010, two years later she was found guilty of professional negligence and given a two-year jail sentence over two incidents in 2003 and 2007 in which babies died after being delivered at home.

Her legal team argued that she did nothing wrong, and that hospital deliveries would not have changed the tragic outcomes.

They add that international experts and midwives' organisations have lent her their support.

Gereb secured a retrial but last month a Budapest court upheld the jail sentence from 2012 with no further recourse to appeal and barred her from working for ten years.

Her critics argue that regardless of her good intentions, Gereb must be punished for breaking the law.

Hungary is one of the few central and eastern Europe countries that permits home births, a standard option for mothers in much of northern and western Europe.

But it remains discouraged by most Hungarian doctors and obstetricians, and is not covered by social insurance. Only around ten midwives licensed for home births serve the entire country.